A Repertoire of Repentance

I am a hospice chaplain.  It isn’t my job to convert my patients to my religious vision.  I meet them where they are, which is never a good place to be.  But there they are, and I try to bring a word of comfort.

Fortunately, the Bible is a fat book, so there’s plenty of comfort in there.  But comfort is not the primary theme of the Bible.

The Bible was written for, and by, people in the throes of tragedy.  If you want a word of comfort, you must wade through some exceedingly sad stories.

Things generally begin well.  Adam and Eve tend the garden of Eden.  Abraham and Sarah are blessed with a child in old age.  Moses and Miriam sing their song of triumph by the Red Sea.

But it isn’t long before the bottom drops out.  Adam and Eve wind up east of Eden.  The children of Abraham turn out to be, to put it kindly, very ordinary people. They lie, they cheat, they fuss and cuss.

Aaron builds his golden calf.

These sad stories are a prelude to the ultimate disaster as the children of Abraham are defeated, humiliated, butchered and hauled off to a heathen land.

The Old Testament was written to explain why that happened.  It is one long confession of shared responsibility, a massive mea culpa.  A repertoire of repentance.

Some said God was punishing the sin of idolatry, the worship of false gods.

Others said God was punishing social sins committed against the poor, the weak and the foreigner.

But idolatry and injustice have always been sisters.  Worship mean gods and you turn mean.

Christians have a lot of repenting to do but, unlike the men and women who have us the Hebrew Scriptures, we refuse to own up to our sins.

America is knee deep in culpability.  But when Colin Kaepernick or Black Lives Matter call us to account, we kill the messenger or we misdiagnose our disease to make it somebody else’s fault.

The confessional character of the Old Testament runs counter to human nature.  People hate to own up to their own crimes.  How did Israel do it?

At first, they didn’t.  When times are good we feel like blessed people and figure we earned our blessings.  So it was in Israel.

Germany and Japan, in my lifetime ay least, have done a pretty good job of confessing corporate evil.  But that’s because they, like ancient Israel, have been humbled by history.

America has never learned that lesson.  American Christians have never learned that lesson.  But our hour of reckoning will come.  In fact, for those with eyes to see, the reckoning has already begun.

And when our chickens come home to roost we will, at long last, be able to read the Bible straight.

One thought on “A Repertoire of Repentance

  1. You appear to be hoping America gets its day of punishment. Over 600,000 Americans lost their lives in the 1800s to keep the Union intact and free the slaves. Many more thousands lost their lives saving Europe from itself in 1917 and 18. America came to the rescue of civilization again in the 1940s and poured out its treasure to help Europe get back on its feet after stopping the savagery of Japan. From then until the collapse of the Soviet Union, America stood as the cop on the beat that kept the peace. Can you admit America has done some good things by serving as a check on aggressive subversion of other nations? Can you admit that America has been the light on a hill that has given hope to millions that suffered from oppressive despots? Can you admit that countless millions seek admission to America to improve their lives? How about easing up on the shame campaign?

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